Digital Fix report that Peter Harness will be adapting H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for Mammoth Screen and ITV, with shooting not beginning until 2017. Promising; and further food for the speculators surrounding the Doctor Who succession.
As alluded to earlier... Richard Marson's biography of Verity Lambert, first producer of Doctor Who and guiding force behind much, much else, reviewed by me at The St James's Evening Post.
sir_guinglain: (Hartnell words)
( Apr. 20th, 2014 11:16 am)
Here I am, an agnostic and I suppose a functional atheist, humming 'Jesus Christ is risen today'... but here is a Doctor Who Easter Bunny, co-creator Cecil Edwin 'Bunny' Webber, profiled on BBC Two's (Happy Fiftieth Birthday, BBC Two!) website for An Adventure in Space and Time last year. ([ profile] danblythewriter's idea.)
Brief reaction as I have to get up and cross London to the ExCel tomorrow for the 'Celebration'... but it was corny, with some overdone sentiment and dramatised the mythology and communal memory of Doctor Who as much as it did (very selectively) the facts and personalities - but it was still a tremendous achievement within eighty-five minutes, with lots of groans here as dialogue was transplanted or the in-references were made. Shoulder to Shoulder indeed. It annoyed me and tugged at my heartstrings in equal measure. There was some overacting from the principals when in character, particularly during the first recording of An Unearthly Child, but David Bradley was superb.
sir_guinglain: (ClaraEleven)
( Jun. 2nd, 2013 12:56 am)
He's off, then, after all, just when I had expected that he would be doing the 2014 series. If, as some sources suggest, this is part of a general relaunch which will try to restore momentum for the series after three years of reduced episode counts and allegedly troubled production, then good luck to it; though increasingly globalised television production, and the relatively small sums available in British television, have exposed Matt Smith to opportunities to develop his career away from the madman in a box.

Years and years ago, Steven Moffat pointed out that had Tom Baker played the Doctor in the television environment of 1999 or 2000, one would have been lucky to get three years out of him as the offers would have poured in and he would have been spirited away to a new project. Happily, Doctor Who is not a television backwater now, and let's hope it never is again; but it might mean that we are unlikely to see a run of more than three series for any future Doctor, even if more money can be found (and experience in arranging co-productions was an essential or desirable factor, I recall, in the recent recruitment procedure which led to Brian Minchin being appointed as the new non-writing executive producer).

The production office change what the Doctor looks like without consulting fans or the press; as ever, whatever Steven Moffat says about there being someone out there, unknowing, ends in Doctor Who are moments that have been prepared for. Change and renewal is more important than just going on living. It's far from being all over, so keep warm while the ancient ritual of new Doctor-speculation unfolds.
I'd noticed how recent publicity for the new series of Doctor Who has emphasised its historical settings, with leaks from the set over the last few months revealing that the nineteenth century seems to be visited several times. Just as Doctor Who in 2005 had borrowed imagery and themes from the contemporary aspirational working-class drama genre, in 2012/13 it was borrowing the clothes of the new strand of historical series. Now the blog of The Journal of Victorian Culture, no less, has weighed in with a look at The Snowmen as an item of current neo-Victorianism. Definitely worth a look.
sir_guinglain: (RadioTimesRichardDimbleby)
( Nov. 22nd, 2012 01:24 am)
Catching up with the first two episodes of the second series of The Hour from BBC2 and Kudos, and I am less sure what to make of it than I was last year. Hector's outsider status seems to have been forgotten - was he really being addressed as a 'journalist' in the trailer at the end of part two? He definitely wasn't one in the first series - and there are still lots of anachronisms which grate at the ear. On the basis of these two episodes, even more than last year's series, The Hour represents a 1950s broadcasting environment from which today's producers would like to be descended from, rather than what Tonight, Panorama, This Week or World in Action were actually like. There are more than just a few strands of reality, though - there were anguished discussions of immigration on television throughout the 1950s, I've read - though the distinction between 'news' and 'current affairs' which preoccupied the BBC until the coming of John Birt in the late 1980s is sadly ignored.

It's too early to say whether the police corruption/sex trade/racism storyline will hold up, and a visit to Soho by any television drama invokes memories of Our Friends in the North. Our regulars seem all a little less likeable than before, too, though the hints at Peter Capaldi's Randall Brown's inner life (and his past with Anna Chancellor's Lix) could be rewarding. Otherwise I fear a timid adherence to a formula extracted from the last series, and from the leads' other roles - the prospect of Romola Garai being substitute mother to a small girl, as looks likely to happen, brings back memories of last year's The Crimson Petal and the White.
I am too tired to mount an exhaustive exploration of last night's Olympic opening ceremony. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a self-aware exploration of the force of imagination and narrative in the face of social and economic transformation. The incorporation of 'Flower of Scotland' among the national anthems gained greater resonance as the ceremony progressed, suggesting not conflict between peoples, but resistance to whatever Westminster can throw at the people of Britain altogether. Escorted to Stratford by James Bond, the skydiving sovereign practically became a symbol of authority, political or sporting, as a game of hopscotch on the squares of fiction and reality. The rejection of historical national heroes, with an ambivalent portrayal of Brunel-as-Prospero by Sir Kenneth Branagh as presiding genius, emphasised that this was a pageant of social and cultural history, and Danny Boyle's overhauling (in both senses) of the national stereotypes many across the world no doubt expected to be rehearsed was exhilarating.

ETA: Not Brunel-as-Prospero, but Brunel-as-Caliban. Ambivalence upon ambivalence.
A report on Doctor Who set designer Michael Pickwoad's talk to the Friends of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on location filming in historic buildings. Doctor Who was mentioned briefly - but the man should write a book, or have a camera following him, as he has a lot to say.
So, farewell then (again) Upstairs Downstairs, after an erratic second season which failed to satisfactorily build on the strenghts of the 2010 miniseries. There are petitioning groups set up on Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to reverse the BBC's decision, but any extension would have to see the direction of the series rethought. From her utterances on Twitter (where she was extremely courteous to my expression of regret), Heidi Thomas appears too exhausted by the job of running UpDown and the much more lauded Call the Midwife to be showrunner for two series at the same time, a reminder that British television series drama seems to rely too heavily on a small pool of talent. UpDown probably lost a valued champion when Piers Wenger left BBC Wales, and the absence of Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh from this series left a void: though there was much to enjoy, something died with Solomon the monkey.

ETA: Now also at The St James's Evening Post, slightly revised.
sir_guinglain: (RadioTimesRichardDimbleby)
( Jan. 3rd, 2012 12:59 am)
Intensive deduction by ITV, guided by the need to extend further a successful franchise, has established that Inspector Morse was once Detective Constable Morse; and so audiences have been transported to 1965 to meet him (in the person of Shaun Evans) investigate his first Oxford case. Morse is one of many coppers transferred from a new town police force to help with the murder of an Oxford teenager, but his doggedness wins him the notice of Inspector Fred Thursday (a lugubrious Roger Allam) and together, as the saying goes, they fight crime. Russell Lewis's script was unadventurous, with Morse and Thursday embroiled among police corruption, the sex industry, the secret service and compromised government ministers; if council housing had been involved this would have been clearly Our Friends in the North Oxford. Even Our Friends's Danny Webb was cast as a police bad apple; but dialogue made the other familiar connection, with Cliveden and the Profumo affair, explicit.

There were a few obvious anachronisms; a street seen through a window displayed what looked like 1990s architecture (specifically, the Lincoln College buildings on Bear Lane) and following up an address in Jericho does not take you to the corner of King Edward Street and Oriel Square, with Oriel College in plain sight if soft focus. I'd have wanted to use the present-day New Theatre as an exterior, with added CGI for the sake of faux-authenticity, but instead a different theatre was used. The Lamb and Flag seemed very much its modern self, complete with pub sign, rather than the more run-down edifice which I first entered in 1988 or whatever it looked like in 1965. A plainer pub sign at least would have helped. In-jokes abounded - Morse's radio is a Zenith, which was the name of the independent production company which made the original Inspector Morse series for the old Midlands ITV contractor Central. The first bus we see is heading to Woodstock (as in Last Bus to...) though that was given an in-story justification. John Thaw's daughter Abigail was cast as an Oxford Mail staffer. Shaun Evans's eyes get to morph into John Thaw's at the end too, which was a bit obvious. As in all latterday instalments of the Morse franchise, the character of the university was simplified to make a tale of elite disdain for the lower orders easier to tell, though I was no doubt not the only viewer who felt flattered by the line that Morse was 'too decent' to thrive at Oxford. I expect this pilot to go to series, though its ending, looking forward twenty years, suggests it would be content with an honourable afterlife prefacing Inspector Morse on download and disc packages.
sir_guinglain: (Charles I)
( Oct. 13th, 2011 02:42 pm)
Cruise of the Gods has been sitting unwatched on tape for nine years since its broadcast. BBC Four repeated it last week, and I'm watching the recording of that broadcast now. It's all frighteningly well-observed, and attuned to the neuroses and prejudices of old fans of older lowish-budget TV shows like myself. It builds from this a story about ageing and experience, delusion and self-knowledge with carefully-deployed pathos, and is a warning to those of us who cling to illusions of status to recognise what we have when we have it. Sentimental? Yes. Enjoyable? That too. The cast - Brydon, Coogan, Corden, Walliams - lend this an air of a latterday Carry On with reflection rather than innuendo - though the same could be said of much of Carry On Teacher, second in that series, shown on Film 4 earlier today.
The last few weeks have largely been concerned in the thinning of the contents of my flat, a task still not done, but there has still been time for some television. Possible spoilers for those wary of such things.

Wales is insane )

Your eyes always get piggy when you lie, Moneypenny )

I will never swim in the sun again... )

Papers, papers... )
The BBC announced today that the sale process for Television Centre has begun. Whatever the commercial arguments, this is a sad day for a generation who grew up with Television Centre at the heart of their collective popular imagination, though part of the existing structure is likely to survive as part of the broadcasting business in some form. The retreat of the BBC sprawl from Wood Lane has already begun, with the move of BBC Worldwide from Woodlands, just north of Westway, where the flags of Radio Times and Doctor Who once flew, and one wonders if the BBC logos have already been removed from the road signs further down Wood Lane.

In the meantime, this film is a record of the construction period made to inform BBC staff; it has a haunting, concrète soundtrack from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (John Baker?), provides glimpses of the buildings demolished to allow Television Centre to be built (mainly associated with White City stadium, I think, but including the old Wood Lane station on what was then the Hammersmith branch of the Metropolitan Line), and shows those curved corridors (built, it's said, because in those convivial days few BBC employees could walk in a straight line) taking shape, as well as the statue of Helios being elevated into place.

Doctor Who: Meglos )
sir_guinglain: (Charles I)
( Apr. 29th, 2011 08:16 am)
The English heralds have struck again, and it's Cambridge. Still, this commemorates the Queen's paternal grandmother's family, and St Andrews people can celebrate their dominion over a slightly older university. Strathearn is there, but as an earldom. Chalfont syndrome, perhaps, as explained in my reply to a comment by [personal profile] pellegrina on an earlier post.

Watching BBC now. First technical failure: Edith Bowman's big moment, and no-one heard her report from St Andrews. Simon Schama as historian talking about "mergers and acquisitions", today as a resolution to the disaster of 1981, and remembering 1947 and sweet rationing.

ETA: , recommended by [ profile] gervase_fen.
One of the side-effects of being at my parents' for two consecutive weekends is that I've seen two consecutive weeks of Channel 4's Country House Rescue. Ruth Watson's target this week was Pen-y-lan, a house near Ruabon in North Wales (the remnant of a larger property as most was demolished over half a century ago) inhabited by Emma Holloway and (at times) her grown-up children. One wonders who nominated Pen-y-lan as a subject for the programme and arranged for Emma Holloway to allow the cameras, production team and Ruth Watson in. Emma Holloway was portrayed as withdrawn and unrealistic; information in the commentary suggested that she had moved to the house (acquired by the Holloway family in the 1840s according to The Country Seat - Emma's family, or her husband's?) to recover from a divorce and that she was still dealing with the emotional consequences. Her children were depicted as carelessly using the house as a country party venue where they entertained their friends before heading back to their metropolitan lifestyles; I was reminded of Hugh Massingberd's account of how his fellow trainee solicitors liked to be invited up to the family flat at the ancestral seat of Gunby in Lincolnshire (already transferred to the National Trust) in his memoir Daydream Believer.

Reality television is often bullying television but this was the most extreme case I've seen on Country House Rescue. Emma Holloway's fragility was exploited and one suspects exaggerated mercilessly by the questioning and editing, and it's a pity nothing was said about the developments underway at Pen-y-lan mentioned on the Historic Houses Association website, where it's revealed as now open for wedding receptions - Emma Holloway was at least depicted as an exceptional cook - and where a civil marriages licence isto be applied for. There seems to be confusion about who actually built the house, too - it was built in 1690 by the founder of Lloyds Bank, we were told, but as Sampson Lloyd was not born until 1699 either eighteenth-century Birmingham metalworking was far more advanced than the technology of the Time Lords of Gallifrey, or the founder of the Lloyd business interest as a whole (which took a couple of generations to get into banking) was intended. The programme's account suggested a lack of sensitivity towards a delicate situation of which the audience were not fully informed, and resulted in unsatisfactory television.
I have absolutely no acquaintance with Michel Faber's book, but the BBC co-produced adaptation of The Crimson Petal and the White looks very promising. I didn't pick up at all on the parallel between Sugar and Agnes, that both are writing - one a quasi-autobiographical novel, the other a fragmented and self-denying memoir - until I visited the BBC's programme website (which shows evidence of cutbacks by being more anaemic than sites for series of this profile used to be); but there are several character details being held back for later episodes, Lucinda Coxon's script concentrating for the moment on William Rackham's trajectory and how his acquaintance with Sugar and belief that he can be effectually sexually dominant over her make him into a confident part of his father's business machine and potentially (at Sugar's instigation) its regulator. It's a mark, perhaps, of the cynicism of the turn of the twenty-first century that William's socialism is dismissed as the pose of an ineffective coward. The production paints a picture of Victorian sexual conduct which is now the received one, but if so it's a stylised hyperconventionality, the characters all inhabiting different corners of a shared Hell. Strong performances from the cast, especially Chris O'Dowd, Romola Garai and Amanda Hale; Gillian Anderson seemed a little too music hall at times but perhaps that's appropriate for a madam of a crumbling brothel with high class pretensions. Richard E Grant's predatory doctor, a specialist in hysteria, sublimated sinister; arch affectation has its place and Grant deployed his well-exploited line carefully. More Mark Gatiss and Shirley Henderson next week, perhaps.


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